Most businesses will want to be able to take credit card payments, whether they have a physical location or are entirely online. To accept credit card payments, a business needs a credit card processor. With so many different fees, requirements, and options available, it can be a headache for anyone to sort through it all.
We’re here to help. We’ve looked at transaction fees, pricing models, customer support, third-party integrations, hardware options, and security features to help you narrow down your choices. We’ve also gone through the data to select 10 companies as the Best Credit Card Processing Companies of 2020.
Credit card processors and point-of-sales (POS) systems often work together to take and process sales. Visit our guide to POS systems for more information.
Our Best Credit Card Proccesing Companies of 2020 Rating
Best Credit Card Processing Companies of 2020
Payment Depot: Payment Depot, our top credit card processing company of 2020, offers transparent pricing and 24/7 customer support. It also will reprogram your existing equipment to work with Payment Depot for free. Payment Depot is a subscription-based payment processor with a variety of plans based on sales volume. Upper-tier plans have higher monthly payments but lower transaction fees and more features. The most expensive plan provides customers with their own account manager, breach protection, a premium gateway, and a free Clover Mini.
Best for Higher-Volume Businesses Looking for A La Carte Services
- Monthly Fee
- $99 & up
- Online Fee
- Swiped/Chip Fee
- 1.5% + 18¢
Fattmerchant: Like Payment Depot, Fattmerchant is a subscription-based credit card processor that offers plans based on monthly sales volume, with lower transaction fees if you select a higher-level plan. Fattmerchant is marketed toward small and medium-sized businesses, has no cancellation or PCI compliance fees, and integrates with such POS systems as Shopify, Vend, and Revel.
Best for Businesses Looking for a Package Deal
- Monthly Fee
- Online Fee
- Swiped/Chip Fee
- 2.0% + 19¢
Helcim: Tied for first in our list of the best credit card processing companies, Helcim is subscription-based, but unlike Payment Depot and Fattmerchant only has one plan. Transaction fees are adjusted based on your monthly sales volume. Helcim also offers its own point-of-sale software, an online store, and customer management software.
Best Overall and Best for Low-Volume Businesses and Simple/Quick Setup
- Monthly Fee
- Online Fee
- 2.90% + $0.30 & up
- Swiped/Chip Fee
- 2.6% + 10¢
Square: Square could be an all-in-one processor for many businesses. Customers who sign up for Square as a payment processor use the company’s merchant account and payment gateway. Square has its own POS system that we rated as the No.1 POS System of 2020. It offers transparent pricing and a host of third-party integrations.
Dharma Merchant Services: Dharma offers transparent pricing and tries to educate its customers about the various types of merchant services. It will even suggest other processors to work with if Dharma believes it isn’t the company for you. Dharma offers a variety of hardware options and a choice of payment gateways.
Stripe: With the ability to accept multiple types of currencies Stripe could be the processor for you if your company does a lot of international transactions. Stripe offers several application programming interfaces (API) and pre-built tools. It also provides a lot of room for customization and integration with third-party apps to suit your specific business needs.
PayPal: PayPal might be the most widely recognized company on this list. Known primarily as a method for individuals to pay for things online, PayPal also offers credit card processing for businesses, both for online and brick-and-mortar companies. PayPal has clear pricing, offers the ability to take international payments, and features several different plans for businesses ranging from sole proprietorships to enterprise-level companies.
Flagship Merchant Services: Flagship doesn’t post its prices or plans online and prefers to work with companies one-on-one to develop custom plans. It offers online, in-store, and mobile payment processing solutions. New customers are offered the choice between two different free payment terminals.
Intuit QuickBooks Payments: Known primarily for its TurboTax and QuickBooks software, Intuit also offers credit card processing free for users with a QuickBooks account. For companies that already use Intuit products, using QuickBooks Payments could be easier than having to integrate separate payment processing, point-of-sale, accounting, and tax software.
Shopify: Shopify provides a variety of e-commerce, POS, and payment processing solutions. While it offers credit card processing for brick-and-mortar businesses, it made its name in the world of e-commerce. Shopify offers a variety of plans for merchants ranging from the small business-focused Shopify Lite to the enterprise-level Shopify Plus plan. These plans offer clear pricing and free access to Shopify’s point-of-sale system Shopify POS Lite.
With the use of cash declining in recent years, the ability to accept payment via debit and credit cards is becoming increasingly necessary. Choosing one that’s too complicated, doesn’t offer the features you need, or is too expensive will make life difficult. Below are a series of questions to ask as you search for the right credit card processor for your business.
- What is your monthly sales volume? Some companies offer different processing rates for low-volume and high-volume sellers. Look at the rates for your company’s sales volume.
- Do you sell primarily online or in-store? While most companies offer both online and brick-and-mortar selling options, some are more geared more toward one or the other. Some payment processors even offer their own e-commerce platforms. Also, the transaction fees for online payments compared to in-person sales are usually higher.
- Do you sell internationally? Not all processors accept non-U.S. currencies. If you are a U.S.-based operation that regularly conducts business internationally, make sure that the companies you’re considering accept payments in the currencies of the regions where you do business.
- What’s your budget? Have a clear budget in mind, including what features and fees you can afford.
- What is the company’s fee structure? While all the companies on our list have transaction fees, these are not all based on the same pricing model. A few companies offer flat rates, while others offer interchange-plus rates. Also, while some companies have a pay-as-you-go subscription model and recurring monthly fees, others don’t.
- What hardware does it use? If you already have hardware, check to see if your new processor integrates with it. Some companies will reprogram existing hardware, while others have their own hardware or work with specific hardware companies. In addition, find out if a processor offers options like a mobile card reader.
- What software does it integrate with? Take inventory of what software you will be using or are currently using. Does the processor integrate with it or offer an API to facilitate integration?
- Will you require a separate point-of-sale system? A number of companies on our list, such as Square and Shopify, offer their own point-of-sale systems. If a POS system is important to you, look to see which POS integrations are offered by the processors you’re interested in. For more information on POS systems, see our guide Point of Sales (POS): A U.S. News Guide.
- What customer service options does the company offer? Make sure you have access to customer support when you need it. Several companies offer around-the-clock access to support representatives, while others only provide phone support during set business hours. Some companies may also have online troubleshooting guides or community pages where members can try to help you.
- Is it PCI compliant? PCI compliance is required by credit card companies. Some processors will automatically ensure your compliance, while others will require you to fill out annual questionnaires.
With so many aspects to credit card processing services, it can be difficult to know which features you should be interested in and which you can tune out. For example, free equipment can be enticing, but if it isn’t equipment you will use then this is of little benefit. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution for business owners. It’s about finding the processor that’s easy to use and has the features that matter most to you.
If you sell items only occasionally, you might be interested in a company like Square that has slightly higher transaction fees but is easy to use and transparent when it comes to costs. On the other hand, if you have a small business with a higher sales volume, then a subscription-based company with a monthly fee like Payment Depot might be better due to its lower transaction costs.
Also consider a processor that offers a merchant account, a payment gateway, and PCI compliance. These features might cost more but will make your life easier.
- PCI compliance: Maintaining PCI-DSS compliance helps to authenticate data and ensure cardholder privacy. Meeting this standard will help protect the data of you and your customers.
- Merchant account: A merchant account is also required to accept card payments. It acts as a holding account while the payment is processed.
- Payment gateway: A payment gateway is the vehicle through which your processor, various banks, and merchant accounts interact. It also acts to encrypt the data to ensure security during the payment process. Payment gateways are needed to process credit cards online.
- Point-of-sale systems: A bundled or integrated point-of-sale system can be a huge boon for your business, allowing you to track inventory, manage your payroll, and synchronize vital information across multiple locations.
- Third-party integrations: Companies need a lot of software, including e-commerce platforms, POS systems, and accounting, scheduling, and customer relationship management (CRM) software. It’s important to make sure they all work together seamlessly.
- Hardware: If you only sell online, you may not require a lot of hardware. But if you have an online store and several brick-and-mortar locations, and occasionally sell at fairs, festivals, or other markets, your processor should have the hardware needed to facilitate all of those transactions.
- Next-day funds: While most processors deposit funds from transactions within one to two business days, some offer guaranteed next-day deposits for an extra fee.
A credit card processing company provides the ability to accept card payments. It’s a process involving the bank that issued the customer’s payment card, the point of sale or purchase, your merchant account as your payment gateway, and eventually your business account.
When a customer makes a purchase at the point of sale (which could be your website, the cash register in your store, or the card reader attached to your phone at a flea market), it sends that information to your payment processor. The payment processor then sends the data through the payment gateway, encrypts it, and begins communicating with various accounts. A deposit is made in your merchant account for the transaction amount while the payment gateway validates the customer’s ability to pay with their card issuer’s bank. When the payment is validated, it then moves the money from your merchant account into your business account. Many credit card processors also act as the payment gateway, which streamlines the process somewhat.
The credit card processor charges various fees for this service. Some processors are subscription-based and charge a monthly fee to use their services. All processors have some sort of transaction fee. The credit card companies charge the credit card processors a fee to process the transactions, which is called the interchange fee.
The card processing companies then charge you transaction fees. This is a per-transaction fee and can be based on a couple of different pricing models.
- Interchange-plus pricing: This is when the processor charges you the interchange fee and then a separate fee on top of that. That second fee is either a percentage of the transaction (for example the interchange fee plus 1.8% of the transaction), a nominal fee (for example the interchange fee and 12 cents), or both (for example the interchange fee plus .5% and 30 cents).
- Flat-rate: This is when the processor charges you a set amount regardless of what the interchange fee is. For example, it could be 2.9% and 30 cents regardless of the interchange fee charged by the card-issuing bank.
Transaction fees can also be based on how a transaction was completed.
- In-person: This type generally has the least expensive transaction fees.
- Keyed-in: This happens when the card number needs to be manually entered into the system. This could be a transaction completed over the phone or even in person if the card reader is unable to read the card.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) compliance is important to processing companies. The PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) has put forth a list of criteria for companies to fulfill to protect the data of cardholders. The Council was founded by American Express, Discover Financial Services, JCB, MasterCard, and VISA. Different processing companies have different approaches to PCI-DSS compliance. Some processors have end-to-end encryption so that you don’t need to do anything. Others help you through the compliance process by offering questionnaires that you need to fill out annually to maintain compliance. They may or may not charge you a fee for this service.
Processors also differ in their attitudes towards “high-risk” companies. Some processors won’t work at all with companies they deem high-risk. Others will require more information before they work with a high-risk company, and still others will work with companies in some high-risk industries but not others. The term high-risk can mean several things depending on the context. A high-risk company could be a company that’s involved in what the processor considers a high-risk industry like debt collection, tobacco or tobacco-related products, firearms, or alcohol. The term can also apply to companies that have bad credit or other financial problems.
If your business plans on accepting credit or debits cards as payment, you will need a credit card processing company. Being able to safely take credit card payments online or in-store not only makes it more convenient for customers to pay for your goods and services but is almost a requirement to have a viable business. The right credit card processor will have good processing rates and integrate with your accounting and POS systems to make what could be a headache-inducing patchwork of products more user-friendly.
Best Credit Card Processing Companies for Small Businesses
What makes a good credit card processing company for a multinational business doesn’t always make a good company for a small business. We’ve looked at our top 10 credit card processing companies and selected five that are the most suitable for small businesses. For more information, visit our list of the Best Credit Card Processing Companies for Small Businesses.
Credit Card Processing Companies
Still looking for more information about credit card processing or trying to find the best credit card processing company for you? Explore the directory below to learn more.
Other Guides from 360 Reviews
We’re here to help with all your retail, restaurant, and e-commerce needs. Whether you are trying to grow a small business or expanding a successful large company, our guides and unbiased ratings can support your mission:
The following describes our 360 approach to researching and analyzing credit card processing companies to provide guidance to prospective business consumers.
1. We researched the companies and products people care most about.
U.S. News analyzed and compared a variety of publicly available data, including internet search data, to determine which credit card processing service businesses are most interested in. We found 24 companies that stood out for further evaluation based on their search volume and reviews by both professionals and consumers. After conducting a thorough analysis, we were able to condense the initial list to the 10 best credit card processing companies. Keeping business inquiries in mind, we also determined which of these credit card processing companies would be the best in terms of business merchant size, which was categorized as small, midsized, or large/enterprise. The companies were grouped based on their credit card processing limits with respect to transaction volume. With the best companies determined and classified into the categories of suitable business size in terms of transaction volume, we researched their most important features to create a general layout of what businesses should know to assist with their purchasing decisions.
Each credit card processor highlighted a variety of features, some of which affected the complexity of the pricing structure. Transparency with the pricing of their service was a key factor in gathering the information that U.S. News provided. We focused on transaction fees but also dug into what other features and penalties merchants were being charged for. A common fee list was created and the associated costs were compared across companies and plans. The range of auxiliary features included equipment deals, mobile app availability, third-party integration capability, assistance with PCI compliance, and virtual terminals that would aim to enhance businesses’ functionality and flexibility. With all of these factors and features in mind, we created a thorough report that provides a 360 overview of what services businesses should consider.
2. We created objective 360 Overall Ratings based on an analysis of third-party reviews.
Our scoring methodology is based on a composite analysis of the ratings and reviews published by credible third-party professional and consumer review sources. The ratings are not based on the personal opinions, tests or experiences of U.S. News. To calculate the ratings:
(a) We compiled two types of third-party ratings and reviews:
- Professional Ratings and Reviews: Many independent credit card processing evaluating sources have published their assessments of credit card processing companies and products online. We consider several of these third-party reviews to be reputable and well-researched. However, professional reviewers often make recommendations that contradict one another. Rather than relying on a single source, U.S. News believes business consumers benefit most when these opinions and recommendations are considered and analyzed collectively with an objective, consensus-based methodology.
- Business Consumer Ratings and Reviews: U.S. News also reviewed published consumer ratings and reviews of credit card processing companies. Sources with a sufficient number of quality consumer ratings and reviews were included in our scoring model.
***Please note that not all professional and consumer rating sources met our criteria for objectivity. Therefore, some sources were excluded from our model.
(b) We standardized the inputs to create a common scale.
The third-party review source data were collected in a variety of forms, including ratings, recommendations and accolades. Before including each third-party data point into our scoring equation, we had to standardize it so that it could be compared accurately with data points from other review sources. We used the scoring methodology described below to convert these systems to a comparable scale.
The 360 scoring process first converted each third-party rating into a common 0 to 5 scale. To balance the distribution of scores within each source’s scale, we used a standard deviation (or Z-Score) calculation to determine how each company that a source rated was scored in comparison to the source’s mean score. We then used the Z-Score to create a standardized U.S. News score using the method outlined below:
- Calculating the Z-Score: The Z-Score represents a data point’s relation to the mean measurement of the data set. The Z-Score is negative when the data point is below the mean and positive when it’s above the mean; a Z-Score of 0 means it’s equal to the mean. To determine the Z-Score for each third-party rating of a company, we calculated the mean of the ratings across all companies evaluated by that third-party source. We then subtracted the mean from the company’s rating and divided it by the standard deviation to produce the Z-Score.
- Calculating the T-Score: We used a T-Score calculation to convert the Z-Score to a 0-100 scale by multiplying the Z-Score by 10. To ensure that the mean was equal across all data points, we added our desired scoring mean (between 0 and 10) to the T-Score to create an adjusted T-Score.
- Calculating the common-scale rating: We divided the adjusted T-Score, which is on a 100-point scale, by 20 to convert the third-party rating to a common 0-5 point system.
(c) We calculated the 360 Overall Score based on a weighted-average model.
We assigned “source weights” to each source used in the consensus scoring model based on our assessment of how much the source is trusted and recognized by consumers and how much its published review process indicates that it is both comprehensive and editorially independent. The source weights are assigned on a 1-5 scale. Any source with an assigned weight less than 2 was excluded from the consensus scoring model.
Finally, we combined the converted third-party data points using a weighted average formula based on source weight. This formula calculated the consensus score for each product, which we call the 360 Overall Rating.
U.S. News 360 Reviews takes an unbiased approach to our recommendations. When you use our links to buy products, we may earn a commission but that in no way affects our editorial independence.